Balance, Moderation, and Variety Define Healthier Holiday Eating

It doesn’t seem possible. We’ve hardly put away our swimsuits and sandals. But the annual season of feasting and overindulging is rapidly approaching. This seemingly endless trick of temptation starts with Halloween candy and continues with Thanksgiving, the holidays, through New Year’s and beyond to Super Bowl festivities and Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. But it’s more than just overeating, because exercise becomes collateral damage, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (~60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating and under-exercising during this season of gluttony? It begins with understanding: Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family, enjoying food and drink. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases, raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don’t want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have toiled to present good treats. And the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. There’s much to do and accomplish in a short period, and that extra work can be overwhelming. It can add to stress, and the stress can lead to overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Holiday marketing of food and consumerism contributes to the excess as well, and even people who have been trying to eat healthy throughout the year may give in. Comfort and nostalgia play roles, as well.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips.

The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity. And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

Keys to survival and a healthier holiday season

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say, it’s important to practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan in advance.

Practice Awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of dishing up a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar and preservatives.

Experts agree this is a good season to be realistic, rather than the best time for weight loss. They recommend trying to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective. You don’t have to indulge every minute for three months. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.

Manage Stress and Emotions. One way to keep stress at a minimum is to lower your expectations about holidays. Ask for help to lighten your holiday schedule. Host a potluck holiday meal instead of cooking dinner. Or serve it buffet style instead of having a sit-down meal. Learn to say “no,” in a courteous manner, to activities and food that aren’t in your best interest. And at social events, don’t fill silence with food. Talk and make new friends, and even if you’re sad, try turning to people for comfort instead of food.

Plan in Advance. Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering; hunger can undo the best intentions. Also, avoid sources of temptation whenever you can. After visiting a buffet, leave the room that’s filled with food. If there are sweets in the office break room, don’t go there. If you’re given unhealthy food as a gift, bring it to the office to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.

Think about what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest, and find time to fit in walks and exercise wherever and however you can.

The bottom line, the experts say, is to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle both in and outside of the fall/winter feasting season. Constant weight gains and losses can be harmful to your health and your psyche. Keep in mind that celebrations are really about family and friends, not food. Balance, moderation, and variety are keys to better health.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!